By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — In case you’ve forgotten, the last time Rick Porcello took the mound against the Tampa Bay Rays was an unmitigated disaster. In an outing that had many wondering whether an impostor had kidnapped and assumed the identity of the 2016 AL Cy Young winner, Porcello got lit up for eight runs in 4.1 innings, all of which came on a whopping four home runs.
Porcello has allowed three homers in 26.2 innings since.
He’s 1-3 in his four starts since that debacle on April 14, but not necessarily because of his own pitching. He’s posted a 1.69 ERA while opposing hitters have batted just .217 off him, whittling his season ERA down from 7.56 to 3.95. He hasn’t walked a batter since the seventh inning on April 26 against the Yankees at Fenway Park.
Now, Porcello returns to Fenway with a chance to redeem himself after the Rays absolutely teed off in one of the worst starts of his career. And considering Porcello’s recent performance, he has a good chance of doing so.
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Porcello still has somewhat of an issue with keeping the ball in the ballpark, as his 1.66 homers per nine innings remains the worst rate of his career. He’s allowed a longball in three straight outings. His flyball rate has steadily risen in each season since 2012, from 22.7 percent that season to 42.6 percent so far this season.
Still, the recent home runs have been closer to the lone blemish than a sign of Porcello’s continued struggles. Overall, he’s been terrific in his recent efforts.
One possible way to explain Porcello’s turnaround is that he’s mixing in markedly more fastballs. After throwing heat for just 50.9 percent of his pitches in starts against the Rays and Blue Jays, he’s thrown 65.7 percent fastballs in his last three, according to Fangraphs.
He’s also thrown noticeably fewer changeups – from 10.7 percent against the Rays and Jays to 3.6 percent in his last three outings – and nearly half as many sliders, from 16.7 percent to 8.7 percent in the same time frame.
Despite the long-term concerns with Porcello’s continually rising flyball rate, he’s still keeping his walks down while his strikeouts are going up. If he can keep using his recent mix of pitches with the same effectiveness, he could have a good chance of success against the Rays.
Friday night is Porcello’s chance to prove that his April1 4 disaster was an outlier. It’s his chance at redemption.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.